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Leadership lessons from 2020 to take into 2021

Dec 18, 2020

The year 2020 is one for the history books. COVID-19 changed life as we know it and brought some unprecedented challenges. But out of those challenges, came some important lessons. As the year comes to a close, we asked members of the Ivey community from a broad range of areas to reflect on what they’ve learned. Watch the video above to hear their lessons or read a summary below.

Be agile
Tima Bansal, Professor, General Management, Sustainability & Strategy and Executive Director of the Network for Business Sustainability

“I think what I learned most was agility. To be able to adapt and adapt quickly to all that’s around me, whether it’s around technology or how I spend my days or who I speak to or the priorities on my desk. And so this agility will make me just that much more present when I’m in 2021.”

Be a responsible leader
Kanina Blanchard, Assistant Professor, Management Communications and General Management

“2020 has shone the light on the need for responsible leadership … Let’s learn and focus personally as members of communities … to privilege and promote democratic principles; to embrace the critical concept of citizenship; to further our commitment to inclusivity, to diversity, and equity; and, hopefully, to choose to do better.”

Continue to be curious
Catherine Chandler-Crichlow, Executive Director of Ivey’s Career Management and Corporate Recruiting

“Continue to want to know, learn, and explore options that we have not even considered. I think it’s going to be even more critical as we move forward because we have no idea, really, how the pandemic is going to pan out or any of the other areas with respect to what we do in Career Management. So staying alert, staying curious, being informed, I think is the greatest lesson that we would take going forward.”

Have compassion for others
Lauren Cipriano, HBA ’05, Associate Professor of Management Science

“My 2020 lesson that I’m going to take into 2021 is compassion in our society and across our society – how much our everyday actions affect the health and well-being of others in our community, and how, if we want to excel as a community, we need to treat everybody with that compassion.”

Develop your character
Mary Crossan, MBA ’85, PhD ’91, Professor, General Management & Strategy

“I think a timeless lesson of leadership is that character matters, particularly in a crisis like COVID, but it matters in day-to-day living. The beauty of focusing on character as well as competence is that you can actually exercise character, thinking about how you’re developing character each and every day.”

Act promptly while the momentum is present
Dapo Folami, HBA ’21, Student Lead, Black Students at Ivey Collective

“Conventional wisdom has always believed that planning was the only way to get the right result. But what this past year has really re-emphasized for us is that, as good as it is to plan, momentum can be gained or lost in an instant. And I think the main leadership lesson I learned from 2020 is that it’s very important to act promptly while the momentum is present.”

Keep your eyes on the big picture
Tony Frost, Associate Professor, Business, Economics and Public Policy

“If there’s one thing that living through this pandemic – and in your [the students'] case, completing your education through this pandemic – has taught us, it is this: keep your eyes on the big picture. You are graduating into one of the most fluid, uncertain, and frankly, unsettling business environments in generations. Think of this as an opportunity. The world needs new ideas and the energy of youth. The world needs leadership. The world needs what you have.”

Be prepared to adapt
Sharon Hodgson, Dean, Ivey Business School

"We’ve all had to adapt, both personally and professionally, in ways we never could have anticipated. We’ve proven our ability to pivot and pivot fast. And I’ve learned that we have to continue to listen and adjust if we are truly going to make a difference. We all have to do this in the context of a North Star. For me, that North Star is making sure that Ivey continues to grow as a great institution of thought leadership and learning."

Bricolage/connected resilience
David Loree, Assistant Professor, Organizational Behaviour and Faculty Director, Executive Education

“The big leadership lesson that I hope you take from 2020 into 2021 is bricolage. Bricolage is connected resilience and, translated loosely, it means to build something with whatever you have at hand even if it’s not everything you need. We’ve all seen tough situations where some people throw their hands up and say, ‘Why me?,’ while others roll their sleeves up and say, ‘Let’s make this work no matter what.’ I’m sure you’ve had to make do with less than perfect resources at different times in 2020. I’m suggesting, don’t lose those skills because they’ll serve you very well when you’re facing that next tough situation, which we all know is looming out there.”

Look forward with optimism
Eric Morse, Professor, Entrepreneurship and Executive Director of the Pierre L. Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship

“I want to talk about a lesson I learned from my friend and the namesake of the Institute, Pierre Morrissette. After any outcome, good, bad, or other, he’s fond of saying, ‘We’re just getting started.’ This has become a mantra for the Institute and it’s what I’d like to share with you. You’ve worked thoughtfully and tirelessly to be where you are today and here you are and, as they say, it is what it is. But now we need to look forward to what we can be with this sense of optimism because we are all just getting started.”

Have character in leadership
Gerard Seijts, Professor, Organizational Behaviour and Executive Director of the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership

“For me, the pandemic revealed the importance of character in leadership; behaviours associated with compassion, empathy, justice, humility – I know these behaviours bring a strength to leadership and they are not, as is sometimes thought, a weakness in business leadership.”

Reinvent your environment
Scott Vanderwel, HBA '98, Chair of the Ivey Alumni Network and Senior Vice President, Digital Operations and Process Improvement at Rogers Communications Inc.

“2020, in my mind, was a year of reinvention. It was a year where all of the norms and all of the paradigms that had previously existed kind of got turned on their head … The success of that reinvention, in my mind, has two dimensions. The first is people, companies, societies are taking care of themselves. But perhaps more importantly, it’s when those businesses and individuals take care of others that surround them that reinvention is most successful. And so, this idea of looking outward and looking beyond your personal circumstances and reinventing your environment I think is a great lesson for 2020.”

Focus on your behaviour and choices
Rashid Wasti, EMBA ’03, Chair of Ivey’s EDI Advisory Council and EVP & Chief Talent Officer of Weston Group of Companies

“Let’s make the right choices. Let’s be kind to each other and let’s be positive on how we move forward so that one day when we look back, we can be proud of how we conducted ourselves during this difficult time.”

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